Billboard today has a piece regarding the highs and (more recently) lows of American Idol and the show’s upcoming season. It rather sadly exposes the whole production as a microcosm of the floundering, old-school end of the music industry. The players are scrambling behind the scenes to figure out why ratings plummeted in later seasons, changes are being made, and the faces of the show are desperately trying to make us remember Idol‘s former glory as a ratings bonanza and a legitimate factor in the music industry. Harry Connick Jr., a former mentor and now judge on the show (along with Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban), says:
Remember when they came out with new Coke and everybody was upset by it? It couldn’t have teed up the return of Coke Classic any better. When Coke Classic came out, it exploded even bigger than it was before because it created this void and people missed it. And I think that’s what this year can potentially do for this brand. People sort of missed their classic ‘American Idol.’ And it’s back.
Yeesh. New executive producer Per Blankens, who had great success running the Swedish version of the show, similarly stresses a “back to basics” formula. We think that this is the best show there is — the original that’s inspired others,” he says, “so it’s not that viewers necessarily want that big gimmicky change in order to come back to the TV couches. They want to see the show they’ve grown to love.
As breaking news of the day goes, it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Still, there it was, in multiple variations, splattered across the online pages of E!, Us Weekly, Entertainment Weekly (which called it a hair break-over), People magazine and so many other websites devoted, in large and small part, to such trivialities. You’d think Samson had risen from the dead and taken up guitar.
But wait! Shouldn’t Delilah ” I mean, Katy Perry ” have been the star of this life (and a new ˜do)-after-love story? Traditionally, the celebrity tabloids and gossip websites pursue female celebrities about whom they date, whom they marry, whom they divorce, to search for baby bumps, and fashion dos and don’ts. Guys generally get in only when they’re dating one of them. (Why do you think Nickelback singer Chad Kroeger, who once went from long to short without causing so much as a media ripple and is now engaged to Avril Lavigne, is suddenly “newsworthy”?)
By those standards, John Mayer must be some kind of publicity-baiting genius. In the last several years, he’s made himself as much of a tabloid fixture as an A-list starlet by dating a succession of them: Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift, and most recently, Katy Perry, his pop-star paramour of a few months. (more…)
Something interesting recently went down atop the U.K. singles and album charts. Elton John reigned on the list of best-selling albums with a collection of 40-year-old songs, while Florence + the Machine was No. 1 on the singles chart for the first time ever. The band’s vehicle? A song that was originally produced by Paul Epworth, a regular Adele collaborator (Rolling in the Deep and He Won’t Go, the best song on 21) who had never managed to go that high in the U.K. working with the world’s biggest female pop star.
Alas, he wasn’t exactly scaling that height with Florence either”at least not alone. And therein lies the twist in this chart saga: a good beat. Those Elton John classics had been updated with a danceable 2012 electro sheen by Australian production duo Pnau on the chart-topping Good Morning to the Night, an album featuring dozens of John songs from between 1970 and 1977 crammed into eight tracks and credited to Elton John Vs Pnau, while Florence’s Epworth-produced Ceremonials track “Spectrum” was the leading single via the re-titled and remixed-by-DJ/producer Calvin Harris (for optimal under-the-strobelight consumption) “Spectrum (Say My Name) (Calvin Harris Mix).”
When Bryan Ferry sang, “Don’t stop the dance,” was this what he had in mind? Beat-driven pop where singers share star billing with the producers who boost them to the top? More than ever, the recording arts have become a producer’s medium, in much the same way that film is a director’s medium, with the behind-the-scenes talent dominating both the sound and the vision. (The stage, in singing“when it’s actually live“as in acting, remains the domain of the performer.) With a smaller pool of star producers creating a bigger bulk of the hits, pop music has become as homogenized as Hollywood blockbusters.
According to Ron Fair, a veteran music executive and producer who has worked with Christina Aguilera, Fergie and Lady Gaga, it’s a logical progression from how records are now made. A producer today is a hybrid role of producer, songwriter, and beat maker, he says. What we used to call arranging is now called making beats, so generally, the producer is the guy who walks in with the song. Back in [Beatles producer] George Martin’s and [Linda Ronstadt/James Taylor producer] Peter Asher’s day, they weren’t responsible for making songs.
Dance music, however, has always been more of a producer’s forum than middle-of-the-road pop. But with disco in the ’70s, it didn’t always show. When one remembers Donna Summer’s greatest hits, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” or Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood,” the spectacular vocals probably come to mind first, then the beat. (more…)
The producers and the Fox network already have to worry about sagging ratings (the average viewership in season 11 dropped 23 percent to below 20 million for the first time in nine years, and the show fell from No. 1 for the season”to No. 2”for the first time since 2005), not to mention less commercially viable Idols and external competition from The Voice, The X Factor, and pretty much any reality show that promises to make a nobody a star.
Now, the producers have to deal with pleasing Mariah Carey, who has signed on as a judge next season, replacing either Jennifer Lopez or Steven Tyler, both of whom left after two years in order to focus full-time on their music careers (and in the case of Lopez, her “acting” career, too).
I once interviewed Carey for an Us Weekly cover story, and I found her to be warm, intelligent and surprisingly funny, but she’s a diva through and through. (She actually walked into the living room of her New York City hotel suite cradling her miniature dog!) Idol will reportedly pay her a very diva-like sum of between $12 and $17 million a season (a hefty and not altogether worthwhile expense, considering that Carey is well past her pop heyday), and I don’t even want to think about her list of perks and demands.
Meanwhile, there are murmurings that Randy Jackson, the last remaining original judge, currently in contract negotiations, might be moving from the judge’s table into more of a mentoring role, in an attempt to revamp the show for season 12, launching in January of 2013. Sadly, that restructuring doesn’t extend to Ryan Seacrest, the inexplicably still-highly employable host, who has signed up for another two years at a pay rate of $15 million per season. Is it too late to invite ex-judge Ellen DeGeneres back for the job they should have offered her in the first place?
There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the current batch of American Idol judges and their commitment to the show in recent weeks. Tyler was first to announce his plans to leave Idol on Thursday, beating Lopez to the punch by a matter of hours. In a statement regarding his exit, Tyler cited Aerosmith as “his first love,” and admitted his desire to return to making music with the band. “It’s time for me to let go of my mistress ‘American Idol’ before she boils my rabbit,” said Tyler, referencing an infamous scene from the 1987 film Fatal Attraction. Lopez’s statement regarding her exit was a bit less colorful then Tyler’s. “My time has come,” Lopez said to ex-coworker Ryan Seacrest on his radio show. Lopez’s schedule post-Idol is already packed, with a greatest hits collection and a world tour in the works.
It remains to be seen if even long time judge Randy Jackson will remain. In the wake of Tyler and Lopez’s departures, rumors have flown that Jackson’s exit may also be imminent. US Weekly quoted an unnamed source on the matter, who stated that, “[Show producers] think they need to freshen everything up now.” Any viewers concerned for the future of Idol shouldn’t fear, however. Back in April, host Seacrest reupped his contract with the show for another two years. Replacements for Tyler and Lopez are already being considered, as well. The pool of rumored judging candidates includes the likes of Mariah Carey (shades of Abdul!), Adam Lambert (fierce!), and Charlie Sheen (terrifying!).